Theologian at Academy for Life claims one may dissent from Church teaching on contraception

Aug 22, 2022 3 Min Read
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The Pontifical Academy for Life has published an interview with a theologian who says Catholic teaching on contraception is open for “theological discussion, within the Church, and even the possibility of dissent.”

The interview with Father Maurizio Chiodi, a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life since 2017, was published in Italian and English and shared on the pontifical academy’s Twitter page. It was conducted by Fabrizio Mastrofini, the communications and social media manager of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

The Pontifical Academy for Life presented the interview with Chiodi as a clarification of the work of a 2021 seminar on ethics in which theologians debated a “basic text.”

A Vatican-published book synthesizing the three-day conference recently came under fire for suggesting that the Catholic Church’s constant opposition to the use of contraception in marriage — clarified in the encyclical Humanae vitae — could change.

Father Chiodi in 2017 publicly argued that some circumstances in marriage could “require contraception” as a matter of responsibility.

In the Aug. 19 article, Chiodi said, “Humanae Vitae, like any encyclical, including Veritatis Splendor, is an authoritative document, but with no claim to infallibility.”

“When it comes to Humanae Vitae, and the earlier stance contained in Casti connubii — which was even stronger — we are in the realm of doctrina reformabilis (‘reformable doctrine’),” he said.

“This,” Chiodi added, “does not legitimize hastily substituting one’s own idea with the teaching of the magisterium, claiming for oneself an infallibility denied to the magisterium, but it does open up theological discussion, within the Church, and even the possibility of dissent, both for the individual believer and the theologian.”

In his interview, Father Chiodi affirms that “contraception is considered an intrinsically evil act.” He goes on to say: “I believe that we should not deny the existence of intrinsically evil acts, but that we need to think together about what an act is at its source, overcoming an objectified interpretation of it, that is, one that is independent of any circumstance, effect and intention in the actions of those involved.”

In December 2017, the moral theologian gave a lecture on Humanae vitae, in which he used chapter 8 of Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family, to argue that artificial contraception could be used in some circumstances.

Chiodi said he believed contraception “could be recognized as an act of responsibility that is carried out, not in order to radically reject the gift of a child, but because in those situations responsibility calls the couple and the family to other forms of welcome and hospitality.”

In Humanae vitae, his 1968 encyclical on the regulation of birth, St. Paul VI wrote that “any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation — whether as an end or as a means” is “excluded,” as an unlawful means of birth control.

Father Thomas Petri, O.P., president of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. and a moral theologian, told CNA this month that “even if it's the case that any particular encyclical” such as Humanae vitae “is not infallible, the teaching that it presents is in fact irreformable, because it's part of the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church.”

“In Veritatis splendor John Paul II does say that contraception is an intrinsically evil act, so there can be no reason or purpose for contraception. Benedict XVI gave several speeches in which he spoke about contraception, and it can't be changed. What was true yesterday is true today,” Petri noted.

“There can't be any sort of rollback of the teaching, because it's what’s always been taught, and that's how Catholic theology, and Catholic doctrine, works.”

Petri added that “It's not helpful to simply focus on infallibility and what is named infallible in an extraordinary way. The First Vatican Council, when it spoke about papal infallibility, was very clear that it was supposed to be an extraordinary act.”

Petri compared an infallible statement to an ecumenical council. He described it as “a very extraordinary act, and which usually only happens when the matter at issue, whether it's a doctrinal matter or a moral matter, has become so entirely embroiled in conflict … that it requires such an extraordinary act as a pope or a council declaring something infallibly.”

“That's not normally how Church teaching works — that's why the ordinary magisterium is important.”

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